The NBA Draft is the most valuable means of building a winning team, and the first overall pick itself is often a ticket to contention. Teams can change their fortunes by winning the top pick. Six of the top 10 or so players in NBA history went first overall.
That doesn’t mean it’s a lock to get a good player with the No. 1 pick. The draft is a process of taking teenagers and young men who have never played in the NBA and deciding how good they will be when they arrive. There is risk, luck and uncertainty involved, and it can strike any team, even if they are picking first.
30 worst No. 1 overall picks in league history: What’s the criteria?
For the purposes of this ranking, we considered the first overall pick in every NBA Draft. That means we are not counting the ABA Draft, nor the three years of the BAA Draft; our window begins in 1950. It also ends in 2019, as there isn’t enough information to make a call on the last pick or two.
We are considering a player’s impact in the NBA overall, not to the team who drafted them or how they did in other leagues. We also aren’t evaluating how a player did in college; in many cases some of the worst professionals had good college careers, which is how they earned the first overall pick.
We begin with a player known to New York Knicks fans of the 1960s, Cazzie Russell.